Which whole grain does not contain gluten?

There are many different types of whole grains, but only some contain gluten. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. For those with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, identifying gluten-free whole grain options is important for maintaining a healthy diet.

What is Gluten?

Gluten is a general name for the proteins found in wheat, barley, and rye. The two main proteins that make up gluten are gliadin and glutenin. When flour and water are combined and kneaded together, these proteins form elastic strands that allow dough to rise and keep baked goods from crumbling apart. This gives breads, cakes, and other baked goods their chewy texture.

For most people, gluten does not cause any issues. However, for those with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity, gluten can trigger an autoimmune reaction that damages the small intestine. This can lead to symptoms like abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhea, constipation, vomiting, fatigue, headaches, anxiety, depression, and more. The only treatment for celiac disease is strictly following a lifelong gluten-free diet by avoiding all foods and products containing wheat, barley, and rye.

Common Whole Grains That Contain Gluten

There are three major grains that contain gluten:

  • Wheat – Wheat contains gluten and is a staple grain found in bread, pasta, cereal, baked goods, etc. Varieties of wheat that contain gluten include durum, einkorn, emmer, spelt, farro, graham, semolina, and triticale.
  • Barley – Barley contains gluten and is often used to make beer, soups, stews, and bread.
  • Rye – Rye contains gluten and is commonly used to make rye bread, crackers, crispbread, and some whiskeys.

Any whole grain products made from wheat, barley, or rye (e.g. whole wheat bread, whole grain barley, rye crackers, etc.) will contain gluten and must be avoided on a gluten-free diet.

Identifying Gluten-Free Whole Grains

Luckily, there are many nutritious whole grains that are naturally gluten-free. Here are some of the most common gluten-free whole grain options:


Amaranth is an ancient Mesoamerican grain that is naturally gluten-free. It has an earthy, nutty flavor and can be used in place of other grains in recipes. Amaranth is high in protein, fiber, magnesium, and lysine.


Despite its name, buckwheat is not related to wheat and does not contain gluten. Buckwheat has a distinct triangular shape and is often used to make soba noodles, pancakes, and crepes. It is high in nutrients like magnesium, copper, and manganese.


Corn in its whole grain form such as cornmeal, polenta, grits, or popcorn is gluten-free. Corn is commonly used to make tortillas, chips, cornbread, and other popular gluten-free products.


Millet is an ancient cereal grain that has remained largely unchanged for thousands of years. It has a mild, nutty flavor and can be ground into flour or used whole in pilafs, stews, soups, and salads. Millet is high in magnesium, phosphorus, and copper.


Oats are naturally gluten-free, but are often contaminated with gluten due to being grown and processed near other gluten grains. Certified gluten-free oats ensure purity and are safe for a gluten-free diet. Oats provide fiber, protein, iron, and antioxidants.


Quinoa is an Andean seed that is prepared and eaten like a grain. It has a fluffy texture and slight crunch. Quinoa can substitute for grains in many recipes, adding an amino acid boost. It is high in protein, fiber, iron, magnesium, and potassium.


All types of rice including white rice, brown rice, black rice, and wild rice are naturally gluten-free. Rice is versatile, inexpensive, and easy to cook. Rice is high in resistant starch and nutrients like manganese, selenium, and magnesium.


Sorghum is an ancient cereal grain that originated in Africa. It has a neutral flavor and chewy texture and can be ground into gluten-free flour. Sorghum is rich in antioxidants and helps support digestive health.


Teff is the world’s smallest grain and provides protein, fiber, and calcium. It originates from Ethiopia and is used to prepare the traditional bread injera. Teff can also be cooked into porridge, added to baked goods, or used as a substitute for cornmeal.

Tips for Cooking and Baking with Gluten-Free Grains

When cooking or baking with gluten-free whole grains, keep these tips in mind:

  • Start with certified gluten-free oats and grains to prevent cross-contamination.
  • Use cornstarch, arrowroot, tapioca, or guar gum to add structure to gluten-free baked goods.
  • Adjust moisture and leavening when baking since gluten-free flours absorb moisture differently.
  • Add xanthan gum to help replicate the elasticity of gluten.
  • Blend flours like rice, sorghum, teff, and millet to improve the texture.
  • Cook grains thoroughly as undercooked gluten-free grains can be hard to digest.
  • Try grains like quinoa, buckwheat, and amaranth in pilafs, salads, cereals, and side dishes.
  • Substitute cornmeal for breadcrumbs when coating meats or vegetables.

Health Benefits of Gluten-Free Whole Grains

Incorporating more gluten-free whole grains into your diet provides many important nutrients and health benefits including:

  • High in Fiber – Gluten-free grains provide a mix of soluble and insoluble fiber that supports digestive health, gut microbiota, heart health, and more.
  • Good Source of Protein – Many gluten-free grains offer protein to support energy, muscle health, and feel fuller longer.
  • Provides Important Micronutrients – Gluten-free grains provide B vitamins, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, selenium, and other key vitamins and minerals.
  • Rich in Antioxidants – Grains like sorghum, millet, and teff are rich in polyphenols and other antioxidants that reduce inflammation.
  • Aids Blood Sugar Control – The fiber in gluten-free grains slows carb absorption and improves insulin sensitivity to support blood sugar control.
  • Supports Heart Health – The fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants in gluten-free whole grains support heart health.

Potential Drawbacks of Gluten-Free Grains

While gluten-free whole grains provide many nutritional benefits, there are also some potential drawbacks to consider:

  • May be higher in carbohydrates than other food groups.
  • Often more expensive and less accessible than traditional gluten-containing grains.
  • Gluten-free baked goods may be lower in fiber and nutrients and higher in starch, fat, and sugar to improve texture.
  • Gluten-free packaged foods are often higher in sodium and preservatives.
  • Cross-contamination risks from shared fields, processing, and storage facilities.

The Bottom Line

When you eliminate gluten from your diet, there are many nutritious gluten-free whole grains to still enjoy. Amaranth, buckwheat, corn, millet, certified gluten-free oats, quinoa, rice, sorghum, and teff offer fiber, protein, and important nutrients while being naturally free of gluten proteins. By experimenting with different gluten-free whole grains and learning how to properly prepare them, you can still reap the many health benefits that whole grains provide as part of a balanced gluten-free diet.

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